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Questions Of Life
by [?]


And the angel that was sent unto me, whose name was Uriel, gave me an answer and said, “Thy heart hath gone too far in this world, and thinkest thou to comprehend the way of the Most High?” Then said I, “Yea, my Lord.” Then said he unto me, “Go thy way, weigh me the weight of the fire or measure me the blast of the wind, or call me again the day that is past.”–2 ESDRAS, chap. iv.

A bending staff I would not break,
A feeble faith I would not shake,
Nor even rashly pluck away
The error which some truth may stay,
Whose loss might leave the soul without
A shield against the shafts of doubt.

And yet, at times, when over all
A darker mystery seems to fall,
(May God forgive the child of dust,
Who seeks to know, where Faith should trust!)
I raise the questions, old and dark,
Of Uzdom’s tempted patriarch,
And, speech-confounded, build again
The baffled tower of Shinar’s plain.

I am: how little more I know!
Whence came I? Whither do I go?
A centred self, which feels and is;
A cry between the silences;
A shadow-birth of clouds at strife
With sunshine on the hills of life;
A shaft from Nature’s quiver cast
Into the Future from the Past;
Between the cradle and the shroud,
A meteor’s flight from cloud to cloud.

Thorough the vastness, arching all,
I see the great stars rise and fall,
The rounding seasons come and go,
The tided oceans ebb and flow;
The tokens of a central force,
Whose circles, in their widening course,
O’erlap and move the universe;
The workings of the law whence springs
The rhythmic harmony of things,
Which shapes in earth the darkling spar,
And orbs in heaven the morning star.
Of all I see, in earth and sky,–
Star, flower, beast, bird,–what part have I?
This conscious life,–is it the same
Which thrills the universal frame,
Whereby the caverned crystal shoots,
And mounts the sap from forest roots,
Whereby the exiled wood-bird tells
When Spring makes green her native dells?
How feels the stone the pang of birth,
Which brings its sparkling prism forth?
The forest-tree the throb which gives
The life-blood to its new-born leaves?
Do bird and blossom feel, like me,
Life’s many-folded mystery,–
The wonder which it is to be?
Or stand I severed and distinct,
From Nature’s “chain of life” unlinked?
Allied to all, yet not the less
Prisoned in separate consciousness,
Alone o’erburdened with a sense
Of life, and cause, and consequence?

In vain to me the Sphinx propounds
The riddle of her sights and sounds;
Back still the vaulted mystery gives
The echoed question it receives.
What sings the brook? What oracle
Is in the pine-tree’s organ swell?
What may the wind’s low burden be?
The meaning of the moaning sea?
The hieroglyphics of the stars?
Or clouded sunset’s crimson bars?
I vainly ask, for mocks my skill
The trick of Nature’s cipher still.

I turn from Nature unto men,
I ask the stylus and the pen;
What sang the bards of old? What meant
The prophets of the Orient?
The rolls of buried Egypt, hid
In painted tomb and pyramid?
What mean Idumea’s arrowy lines,
Or dusk Elora’s monstrous signs?
How speaks the primal thought of man
From the grim carvings of Copan?

Where rests the secret? Where the keys
Of the old death-bolted mysteries?
Alas! the dead retain their trust;
Dust hath no answer from the dust.